Press Release from Senator Rodney Ellis
On May 8th, key stakeholders in the Texas Criminal Justice system gathered on the floor of the Texas Senate to have a conversation about much needed criminal justice reforms. Representatives from law enforcement, the judiciary, advocacy groups, and the legislature were present including: State Senators John Whitmire, Bob Deuell, and Rodney Ellis; Barbara Hervey and Cheryl Johnson from the Court of Criminal Appeals; Dallas County District Attorney, Craig Watkins; Harris County Police Chief, Harold Hurtt; and Barry Scheck and Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project.
Also present, were nine men who spent a total 155 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. One by one they stepped up to the podium to tell their powerful stories: James Lee Woodard, who lost 27 years; Brandon Moon lost 17; Charles Chatman, 27 years; James Curtis Giles, 10 years; Carlos Lavernia, 15 years; Alejandro Hernandez, 13 year; Billy James Smith, 19 years; James Waller, 10 years; and Thomas McGowan, 23 years. It was the largest gathering of exonerees of its kind in Texas.
It is no secret that Texas is in dire need of criminal justice reforms, and the need is ever more apparent in Harris County. Texas leads the country in the number of exonerations based on DNA evidence with 33; meaning that one out of every 6.6 exonerations comes out of Texas alone.
Some of the areas pinpointed for reform included:
• Quality of defense counsel for indigent defendants
• Eyewitness identification procedures
• Interrogations and protecting against false confessions
• Ensuring meaningful access to the courts – Writ reform
• Preservation of evidence and forensic/crime lab reliability
• Defendant’s access to case files and evidence
• Informant testimony
• Prosecutorial misconduct
Contact: Tina Tran: 713-236-0306
Post Office Box 12068 Austin, Texas 78711-2068
Press Office: 512/463-0113